Feb 25 2016

Lancaster’s history is being stolen and sold to the highest bidder

best oic

I used to look at picturesque ruins and think of them in their glorious heyday, long dead people suddenly moving , blank stone arches alive by the sun splattered pattern of long smashed stained glass.


Now I look at the present and see a dead  future.


Ever since my child was a few weeks old we would go to the Maritime museum in Lancaster. A grandiose yet cosy building with smiling staff who knew my child by name- I watched him grow there by the way he stared then grinned at painstakingly made model ships, shouted then talked to the model stagecoach whilst I  listened to the smooth pleasantly spoken recording  of deaths via quicksand  on Morecambe Bay as the rain lashed outside.

new castle

He crawled then walked around the museum, noticing more every time he went- each time we watched the ‘History of Lancaster’ film getting a bit more of the way through it. And I can recite the first ten or so minutes off by heart- a party trick no-one will ever want to see.


He will probably never get to see the end. The Maritime museum has been closed since December due to the flooding but a man-made disaster wants to close it to ‘save money’.


A canny trick that, in a small ancient city reliant on tourism.


In the summer months, I can’t remember an occasion when I have been out and about and not been asked directions to the city’s museums by tourists. Sadly due my dyspraxia, despite being eager to give advice, there are probably some lost souls from Tokyo and Plymouth still wandering around looking for that promised ‘up a bit, then down a bit then left, no right, past that good pub’ golden path.


Maybe I did it.


‘Never go to Lancaster, my good friends, they don’t know their left from their right but they pretend they do.’


Now it will be, ‘Don’t go to Lancaster, my good friend. All the interesting things about its history you can see on the internet only. It has a new Primark though.’


‘But new Roman roads were discovered in Lancaster last year!’

‘ Yes, they have been covered over and you can’t read about it or see what was found because the museums are closing.’

‘But  amazing ancient treasures have been found near Lancaster!’

‘ Yes, they are in London. The museums stay open in London. London is the SOUTH. Things are a bit different, once you get past Crewe, my good friend. Only one museum per city is sacrificed there’.


The Judges Lodgings has already gone, fallen under the knife. Fortunately the finances of the country are not in such perilous straits that the MP’s can’t award themselves pay-rises and hurray, they still have subsidised lunches and booze. Phew.


Nevermind that the handsome Judges Lodgings was an amazing multi-tasking museum of stunningly intricate and local Gillows furniture, a treasury of toys, interactive Victorian playrooms and costumed guides who lead generations of kids around its ancient rooms and told them all about their own local history. A history now denied. It saves money, you see.


The cottage museum. A tiny little portal into the past, one wee terraced house preserved from the past for the present and the future- a chance to see for two pounds, a slice of history shadowed under the great castle. No. One person in a waistcoat or pinnie to smile and take your two quid, to show you around three floors of untouched past,  tell you about wattle and daub and give you a chance to add to a rag rug using an old clothes peg? No.

In the City Museum, right in the centre, Anglo Saxon and Roman artifacts rub shoulders with waxworks of Victorian men on the toilet and has a whole room dedicated to the First and Second World Wars. Meh. Who need to know about that? Who needs the original art displays and sweeping staircases featuring oil paintings of the entire history of the area? Who?


Right- now think of Lancaster.



What do you think of?


Is it student housing, the new Primark or that massive historical structure that dominates the city?


That’s right, the castle.


Lancaster castle.


That looming  landmark that has decided history, changed history, been the death of many and the birth of legends. Where so called ‘witches’ died to earn the council a fortune in perpetuity and crude drawings of witches in black hats on broomsticks rule sublime over a rather more unpleasant actuality of elderly women dying in the dark dark cells.

Dark dark cells you say? Market them!

Imagine an eternity pool in the black of a witches cell! With Jo Malone candles- only rich people who mostly aren’t local will die to come to a place where many local people actually died!!

What Lancaster needs is a luxury hotel.


Museums are old-fashioned.


Oh what a joke! Oh the hilarity! Oh the despair!
‘Don’t go to Lancaster, my good friend-the past has gone and so has its future. But soon, soon, it will have a fucking Primark and a maybe a cocktail in the Castle called a ‘Long Drop’.




Dec 9 2015



Two days ago I lay in the dark with no electricity or phone signal listening only to the sound of sirens and rain.


I say only. Both sounds were vivid and pulsating, unsettling and foreboding. And they continued all night. In the day it wasn’t so bad. Their noise was diminished by the grey glow of dawn but the night went on and on and on and I wondered what story they were telling.


It’s weird to be cut off, to be left adrift in the middle of a city, fingers instinctively tapping at light switches, grazing down darkening unresponsive phone and computer screens.


It takes a long time for morning to appear and when it does it is not with the bright chaos that normally accompanies it, a cacophony of alarms and cBeebies, kettles and toast. No, we get up and wait for the morning to come to us, huddled under a blanket as candles flicker, waiting for the dark of the sky to lighten, slowly so slowly lighten.


By seven am, we are desperate for something to happen, some news from the Outside. We live near the river and have no idea where it is and what has happened , how safe we are. My four year old and I get dressed haphazardly  in the dark. I can’t find anything, spill tealight liquid  and one Thomas the tank engine sock hugs tightly around my foot.


Outside is a relief, brighter and warmer than inside. I want to look at the river but my child is scared to. I have an idea that Wetherspoons will be open. It must be. Wetherspoons is always open. Wetherspoons can survive anything. We walk towards town in the expectation of lights and warmth.


Town is closed. Wetherspoons is closed. These are clearly the end times.


I never before knew how many noises alarms could make. There are sharp peeps, loud Whaas, stoppy starty screams, panicky bips all intermingling into a onslaught of Not Normal. It is still raining. You never normally notice how so many things are lit up- bus stops, shop signs, roads until they are gone.

The traffic lights are blank- I go to get cash out to be met with an impassive grey screen. I never thought of that.


My child is crying, desperate for somewhere to sit down, we are flotsam in a familiar yet unfamiliar environment, aliens. Home is not Home anymore, we keep walking- we are at the top of town, no idea of what lies at the bottom. I think of places that might have their own magical power supply that aren’t Wetherspoons and thus we head like cockroaches to the hospital.


It is not yet 8am.


I am annoyed at myself for getting so concerned. I have not seen any floods as yet and it might just be a power cut.


Then I see the army.


The army appear to doing Selfies outside the hospital which allays my fears somewhat especially as my first point of contact today is an elderly Lancastrian who tells me it  ‘owt but a few puddles’.


Inside the hospital I parasitically charge up my phone expecting the whole generator to go off and a few thousand people to die as a result but an elderly lady tells me  when I am being indecisive about this potential transgression that ‘you pay your taxes, love’ which convinces me. I am worryingly easy to convince.


The cafe opens and and a coffee and baked beans on toast has never been better. Then my child drops a bottle of Lucozade bottom down on the floor and my head erupts in surprisingly painful Lucozade lava. More NHS supplies and staff help me. I resolve never to moan about taxes again whilst leaving the hospital sticky and reeking of glucose with a Thomas the Tank Engine sock slowly cutting off all circulation in my right foot.


Lancaster is now full of zombies. I have never seen it so busy. With the absence of phones, people are sharing new rumours and gossip and queueing for public phone boxes. Every shop and cafe is closed and we head down to the bottom of town, our town to see it is pretty much afloat.


Abandoned cars with their numberplates dangling at unnatural angles, the insistent discordant squeal of a thousand alarms punctuating the air.


No-one is on their phones. Strangers stop to talk. There are water bottles for sale on trestle tables and a Samaritans van has a long long line of people who are not smiling and gossiping.

Everything familiar is unfamiliar. I want to take pictures but want my phone, my unresponsive phone to still retain its charge. I can’t believe how lost I feel without it.

The bus station is a river, the fire engine has a boat going down the road. Still people surge, never knew there were so many people in Lancaster. I see through windows of flooded student accommodation, people huddled in blankets in the rank mud of their living room.

I don’t want to go home.  I like the safety of people, like hearing second hand the rumours ( ‘the power station is on fire,’ ‘Lancaster is an island’)  the guilty sense of excitement.


Home is dark and cold and empty.


An enormous queue forms outside the one tiny corner shop open. It Is hard to believe how different things were yesterday.


But we are tired. We walk through a changed small city, a city where everyone is outside and where the alarms punctuate the cold air, a place of mud and water where Christmas and commerce seems to have suddenly vanished.


Then in the typical black hole of a formerly brightly lit establishment, the Robert Gillow we see candles. And hear music. We step inside into the black. A jazz band is playing lit by tea lights. A table is full of sandwiches and biscuits and at the bar, a man offers me warm beer or wine. He tells me not to bother about paying ‘as we are not counting pennies at a time like this, we just want to help people.’

I nearly cry. We sit in a corner and swap stories with strangers. My child drinks milk and smiles.


Outside,  it is turning out to be a beautiful blue sky day.
Then I go home back to the dark and the unnatural noise of sirens, alarms and the river in my cellar.

Aug 5 2015

A guide to East Lancashire involving singing trees, seeing no ghosts and eavesdropping on East Lancashire men at a real ale and steam train pub in Bury.



Hall i’ th’ Woods.

Has ever a more evocative name been heard? It has a sense of place, a fascinating history, regalness and ancient romance. Open at irregular times and of course reputed to be so utterly haunted it has even featured on that grand portal in the unknown, Most Haunted.


We enter via the council estate to a genial woman inviting us on a bug hunt.

This is what happens when  haunted houses are owned by Bolton council.


The genial Northern woman is so genial I at first want her to be an ambassador for the North, such is her lovely burring tones and quiet enthusiasm. Once she gives my boy a silhouette matching worksheet, I have quietly raised her above Jeremy Corbyn in the Prime Minister stakes.

Sorry, Jeremy, I tried to imagine you patiently explaining to a cross four year how a spit worked in the kitchen of an ancient hall but I can’t. Well, I can definitely visualise you more than the other Labour candidates doing such a thing but Genial Northern Woman could probably ward off ISIS with a twinkle in her eye and a local wildlife worksheet.

hall 2

I try to soak up the atmosphere of the history ( and definitely ghost) soaked building but it is slightly marred by the loudly enunciated complaints of  the job in question, boss and fellow workmen by a man by a ladder in a yellow tabard staring grimly and unromantically at the ancient walls.

I think if a headless white woman appeared, he would tell her she ‘wasn’t in his job description.’




There is a singing ringing tree in Burnley. I have read about it often and wanted to see it. On a Trip Advisor review of the Singing Ringing Tree, someone is angry about the free and beautiful attraction. He says he could have done it for sixty quid instead of the actual cost of the installation. Whilst looking and listening to the art installation, instead of listening to the finely tuned pipes sending glorious music across the landscape, I am being cross about the stupid review and decide I will offer him sixty quid to make exactly the same installation. It will be worth not eating for a week.



There is a pub, the cosiest pub in existence that sits next to the East Lancashire Railway in Bury. Steam trains puff past, there is a sign at the door that says badly behaved children will be made into pies. Pleasingly, my child believes it and sits still and terrified.


Someone has been so shocked by the menu of a pub nearby they have painstakingly photographed the menu on their phone  to further shock other locals  not acquainted with the menu in question.

The  entire menu ( yes, entire menu) is read out with great solemnity and fanfare ending in outrage when it comes to the price.

‘Cheese and Onion Pie’- ‘How much do you reckon?

People give prices from the seventies.

Fanfare- ‘£8.95!

People gasp.


‘Yes’ says the grand orator wielding his old Nokia. ‘£8.95’!

‘Now,’….an expectant pause.

‘How much do you think for a cheese toastie?’


‘I’m telling you, £3.95!’

There is shock and awe.

He continues.

‘So four quid for cheese on toast!’

Someone intervenes.

‘So cheese on toast is more than the toastie?’

‘No! I’ve rounded it up to show you the actual price!’

A low mutter commences.


‘Now, get this!’- The phone is wielded around like an oracle of God.

‘There’s a children’s menu!- that’ll be half a sausage then!’

People nod wisely.

‘Four quid!’

This creates a low hubbub.

Someone else chimes in the price of a scotch egg he once had but I am tragically unable to hear it due to the quiet roar.

It continues. Every single item on the menu is listed to a shocked pause. Meals are  discussed  as to their constituent ingredients to prove the shocking price of it combined, cooked and served. I know more about this averagely priced menu than I do about my own family. I listen in a bubble of steam train smoke and strong perry (£3 a pint 7.5%)


THEN the outrage over a sign by a nearby gastropub.

‘Well, it said free beer but it was a trick!’

‘It said Free in big letters and wifi in small letters and beer in big letters’.

Everyone is disgusted.

‘I won’t go to a place that lies’.

‘To resort to those tactics shows the sort of place it is-they’ve reduced themselves and shown the sort of place it is.’

Tragically, just as the conversation turns to the death of Cilla Black, I have to leave.

This, more than even a stuck ghost belonging to Bolton Council  will forever haunt me.

Jul 10 2015


It’s been a while. Inertia creeps. The same places, the same constant confusion about how to add a photo to a post. But then I went to Bolton and saw an advert for a fish stall featuring a dead shark with a crab in its mouth and thought more people should delight in such laminated items of glory .
bolton 2



I had a pleasing time in Bolton possibly due to the fact I was not expecting to. Nobody ever rhapsodises about Bolton in the Guardian. I suspect nobody ever rhapsodises about Bolton in the Bolton Guardian.*

It’s just that place near Manchester. Hey, Manchester! Let’s go to Manchester! But on a grim wet Tuesday, the thought of heading to Bolton seems impossibly glamorous. I possibly need to get my passport renewed at some point.




In Bolton, an old man is playing a tape recording of the Pogues and playing a recorder along with it.No mean feat.  I wonder if he has been the victim of a hipster in a second hand record store. I would have liked to have taken a closer pic but did not have the nerve. This is why I am poor. Yes, you, old polite gentleman with an upturned hat dully glinting with a few coppers and a saliva drenched recorder. I blame you. Somehow.

In a  lacklustre charity shop I hear the decisive snip of a label being pulled off by the woman next to me then I hear her ask the price of the item in question causing the flurry of anxiety an unpriced item in a lacklustre charity shop can cause on a dull Thursday afternoon. People are called ‘from the back’, they all insist the price is definitely inside the bag despite numerous frantic searchings. I am paralysed by indecision and English nerves. Do I say I heard her rip it out ( a known scam so a dithering volunteer on the spot can price it for 20p) but what if I am wrong? What if the nylon twang was from something else at close range somehow? I leave the panicking cluster with a feeling of guilt and disquiet. I have only been in Bolton ten minutes but have potentially assisted in robbing a charity shop and will never be able to listen to Rum, Sodomy and the Lash again without thinking of the desperate parping of a recorder accompanying it.



Sanctuary is sought in The Old Man and Scythe- tumbling and beautiful- ancient beams, stone floors, hot pasties and a large range of strong perries. It’s pretty much everything that is wonderful and good.
Settle one bolton1


I try not to eat all the pasty as wish to try to sample something exotic and glamorous in Bolton Market. But it is a pasty. A hot pasty. I keep putting it back in my bag. It steams lustrously back at me in its nylon cell. I am defeated.

Bolton museum is a thing of even greater glory than the pasty. Especially after a Raspberry perry at 7.7%. There is an aquarium, an art gallery an Ancient Egyptian room and 50% off certain things at the gift shop. I decide I love Bolton. And bug keyrings for 50p.

Then, then, then, Bolton Market! Not only is there the previously mentioned laminated dead head eating a dead  crab tableau but it has a craft ale and cheese stall and wooden stalls in the middle of the market means you can sit in a strange otherworldly existence of drinking a glass of wine (2.90 for a large glass of Chardonnay) watching Wimbledon on a big screen, some genial African  men selling curried goat and plantain, women in burqas walking past, a really really pissed off looking woman drinking a cup of tea from the tea stall and some cheery blokes at the ale stand, so happy and comfortable in their own bubble of Northern bonhomie  that they  look like they belong to the stall and get folded up at the end of the afternoon.

In a glow of cheap refreshment glory, I admire puns on the stall names and declare them worthy of Dickins himself then float home with a bag of short dated premium goods for a pleasing price and a dry mouth.


bolterino*In my head, furious readers will write in to complain that Bolton does not have a Bolton Guardian but in all actuality I could say that the Bolton Pound Bakery was a hotbed of Isis insurgents and still not have this post merit a comment apart from someone who is determined to sell me viagra at a good price.


May 2 2015

Wray Scarecrow Festival 2015

Yes, I know that he is a scarecrow. But I still would.

This is terrifying. It is not the first time that scarecrows have terrified me or my loved ones at Wray but normally they’re flammable zombies or creepily trying to be sexy or something ( (Poldark scarecrow doesn’t count- Poldark scarecrow worked it)

This time a scarecrow is doing a straw poll (sorry) to see which way people are planning to vote in next week’s elections. I hate the fact the faded blue child’s  ballpit balls overflowing in the Conservative tub might actually have some actual impact in my actual real life scarecrowless life. A sentence I should not have to ever say.

I have a  urge to wee in the Ukip tub and then watch them bob all around in a sea of wee but refrain. Only two people in Wray vote Labour. This so beats a swingometer. I wish all voting was done with plastic balls at Scarecrow Festivals. It would make Newsnight far more colourful.

I don’t know what this Angel of the North is meant to represent. I like to think the people who made it are aloof and alone- possibly the  Barclay Brothers and people are scared of them and the sinister message the scarecrow is somehow conveying to the village and the village’s children and the villagers’ childrens’ children.

The theme this year was ‘fantasy’ and this animatronic scarecrow diorama shows a man actually ironing and holding a child. Sorry, suffragettes. It is fantastic of course. I have however got to the stage where I am eyeballing scarecrows to work out the creator’s political persuasions in the hope I can discover the two Labour voters in the village. This is not one of them.

There was a similar Scottish/ anti- Scottish themed scarecrow in this pleasant little nook by the river last time. I like to think it is an embittered husband and wife (one of whom is Scottish)  with different political persuasions  fighting each other through the medium of Scarecrow.

This is just the real Nigel Farage.

I hope the real Nicola doesn’t see this.

No, THIS is just the real Nigel Farage. It’s made even better by the slight suspicion that Nigel Farage is made out of last years Bilbo Baggin’s scarecrow. And look at his toes! His toes are terrifying and I see them at night sometimes in the dark.

Sep 20 2014

I have a Booths card- bow before me peasants. Oh.

I’ve just paid £2.20 for a hot chocolate, a cup of premium tea and a glass of wine in an artisan cafe in Garstang. This is it, the pinnacle of my life, there is no going back now. I have jumped the shark of my life.


Booths  ( or Boobs as my three year old keeps ‘hilariously’ calling it loudly in front of teenage boys) makes Waitrose seem a bit on the slummy side. In fact, I heard once on Radio Four on one of those mid- afternoon programmes that nobody actually listens to unless they’ve got crippling Norovirus, a hangover, bad reception or are retired that Booths is actually posher because they stock more types of expensive caviar than Waitrose.  This has become one of my ‘Actually I’ll think you find..’ quotes about the North  I repeat like a pub bore every time  I go down South.

Being the owner of a black embossed Booths card (free when you enter your email address into the website form) makes me feel a bit special. I hold it out casually with a smile, a triumphant smile like somehow I have made it into that special club. That special club where you have to write your email address into an online form.

It is quite sad my life has become to this really. BUT ACTUALLY NO!  Because with the Booths card comes free hot drinks-even hot chocolate. Yes, even hot chocolate.  EVEN FUCKING HOT CHOCOLATE! It’s the beverage equivalent of climbing Mount Everest but without the death and stuff.


So the hot beverages are free so I can absolutely justify a small bottle of wine for two pounds whilst I sit in laminated splendour, the queen of my brightly yet attractively lit domain.

Until the random envy and spite directed at the other plebs with their free hot beverages.

I go downstairs and pretend to think about purchasing luxury pickles. That’ll learn em. I accidentally purchase a luxury pickle.
I think I understand how marketing works.



Nov 18 2012

Dabbling in Naval Terror whilst eating chips at the Golden Ball

I’m doing it again.
Delighting and positively revelling in misery, jumping into big muddy puddles of horror  with a splash and a grin and savouring each little drop of disenchantment and despair.

And eating chips.
This makes it even better.
It would have been cheesy chips but I’m on a diet.

It is not a very good diet to be fair.

Ironically enough, I hate all that stupid misery porn so popular with idiots nowadays. Books with titles like  ‘A Figure Over My Cot’ or ‘Please, Mummy, Stop’.
Why the hell would anyone wish to read stories of abuse and misery?
I sigh sadly  to myself before picking up a book about murdered prostitutes in Victorian London. That is different- it was foggy, long ago and there were gas lamps and corsets involved which makes it far less prurient and slightly more sexy. I’m sure you understand.

Anyway, I am eating breakfast chips at The Golden Ball in Lancaster, known for centuries as Snatchems for the delicious and  horrific fact that people who used to drink here were often press-ganged.

Imagine a really shit hangover.

There is no liquid left in your body. You are scooping with shaky hands, 9p economy curry flavoured noodles into your parched arid mouth. You cannot find a spoon.

The noodles are slightly underdone and have a slimily crunchy texture like a nest of tarantulas that have been both rotting and baking under an Arizona sun. The Hollyoaks omnibus is on the telly and it is on too loud but you can’t be arsed to look for the remote.

You need to be leave for work in ten minutes.

That is definitely a shit hangover.

Now imagine this.

You were having a night of much diversion in  The Golden Ball Public House-some fellows came and gave you strong ale and many songs were sang and much merriment was to be had. There were fiddles and raucousness and ale kept arriving in heavy foaming jars.  You had new friends, new jokes to definately not tell the Missus and a glorious feeling of well-being.


You wake up and you are still, yet moving – timbers creak, the air is freezing,  your head pounds and you try to find a place to urinate, stagger up and up to find that Lancaster lies behind you, disappearing mistily by the second, vanquished by grey angry waves.

There is nothing at all to be seen in front of you apart from more of the same.
And for seemingly eternally so.

Your wife and children will be waiting for you and not know what has happened. You have no phone because they do not exist  and you cannot even write. Your wife is broad with child.
You will probably never see her again. Disease  and death stalks these rotting planks.

A man appears across the deck. He does not smile and carries a whip. More figures start to merge through the freezing driving rain that drives sideways across the deck.
You have been press-ganged.

That is definitely a shitter hangover.

For the slaves that entered and left here, or just died unmourned and left in the quayside morgue that is now The George and Dragon across the river, I suspect Lancaster was never a place of beauty.

The Golden Ball Freehouse has featured on Most Haunted,  possibly has the cheapest house wine in Lancaster and also a loyalty card and a new conservatory.  These are  generally twisty old rooms though, you go down stairs from the carpark to enter the bar area and a big dog is shouting somewhere very nearby.

We are surrounded by estuary, claggy bleak estuary and this pub is sometimes cut off by the tides, seaweed hangs shrivelled and drying from barbed wire fences guarding nothing. Across the River Lune, Lancaster Castle soars and looks fantastic and I sit here and am happily horrified at the thought of old misery.

And the chips are very good and crispy and only £1.65.

Nov 1 2012

Halloween, Samhain and murder by the state.

In a place where hundreds died in agony, superstition and fear, a nylon witch in a pound shop triangular hat is pretending to sweep away leaves in the gift shop.

In a place where hundreds and thousands saw their family members enter in chains and never saw them again, a cartoon cardboard skeleton represents fear and terror. The skeleton is giving a jolly rictus grin.

We are not allowed to take photographs here despite it not being a prison anymore.

I take photos of the gift shop. No one has ever been slung in jail for hovering a mobile phone over a £1.99 Celtic ring. Apart from possibly in America somewhere.

Tonight is Halloween.

I love Halloween. I love the sound of the words Samhain and Allhallows Eve, beautiful mysterious antiquated words that should not exist in a time of Argos, Amazon and Haribo.


To really portray the horror of this castle, where many innocent people died in terror in front of their family, the tour guide of this special Halloween night time tour pretends he is an undertaker.

Undertakers are scary.


He is a jocular undertaker and I think that no one anywhere has ever wanted a jocular undertaker. But I am a misery and on this darkened sudden winter eve, I wanted to hear in hushed tones about spectral icy fingers on prison wardens’ backs, not genial laughter at a girl in a sexy pussycat outfit.

‘Leave spookiness alone and stop making it sexy and silly and with cheap flattering accessories!’  I want to shout.

Because I want to close my eyes in a silent ancient terrible place and think of what has happened here at a time of year when worlds and spirits are meant to collide but instead a girl with suspenders and a ‘sexy’ bloodstained nurses uniform is giggling with the smirking cat.

The dead are quite justified in staying dead. Unless they are slightly lecherous.

The fake undertaker walks us through shadowed toppling history and sometimes someone with green hair jumps out and shouts ‘BOO!’ just as we were cheerily admiring real scolds bridles and ankle chains.

The fake undertaker does try to portray the horror of a not so recent past and we are to be fair here at an event where ‘prizes are awarded to the best costume. ’

I did not read the small print.

But I find it a queasy amalgamation of light laughter and miserable deaths.

We hear gut wrenching horrendous history about people, real people who were hung a mere step away and it is hard to then suddenly do a LOL at a light joke.

At a place where witches who probably weren’t witches died a hideous death.

And where people like us stood to watch.

Will Auschwitz have tour guides with jocular banter once enough time has past?

As it was Halloween and as Lancaster Castle is famous for it’s supposed supernatural activities, I was expecting the emphasis on the many many statements of people who have stated they have seen or felt ghosts here over the centuries.

But a sheet over the head is more terrifying than centuries of torture.

And legends mean nothing anymore.

But we will still stand to watch.

Aug 11 2012

Oh shit, it’s possibly actually a ghost but it needs spookiness lessons. Oh and Anglezark Moor

I have been guiltily rereading a book called Lancashire Magic and Mystery and the county is apparently so overwhelmed by boggarts, headless horsemen and other such dark nefarious characters I am amazed the Daily Mail has not started a campaign to send them all back somewhere else.

In this book Round Loaf Hill is described as being mysterious, atmospheric and possibly home to modern day covens of witches. I thus want to go to this place very much. I want to see sacrifices (not of animals though, I am a vegetarian, maybe eye of potato and tongue of quorn?)

I also have a suspicion that modern day covens might feature purple tie dyed dresses with elasticated waists and cars with bumper stickers that say ‘My other car is a broomstick’.

The tumulus is hidden deeply on Anglezark moor, there is no foot path, not even so much as a sheep track and my insensibly clad feet sink deeply into dank deep ooze and murky crunchy gorse from which protrude bleak white wooden bones as gnarled and twisted as ravens feet.

So I tell myself as I tramp grimly onwards thinking about the undead whilst stuffing my face with Wotsits and slightly stale Cadburys caramel cake bars, which were reduced at Morrisons. The scenery is spectacular, peak and troughs of harsh mountainous nature at its best, ruined farmsteads, a river with a sudden splash of waterfall, hills collide with the sky.

And there is no one else here. Beyond that hill range we are heading to, look, just over there, lies Chorley, somewhere nearby is Preston. A hundred years ago this view would not have been so pastoral due to the belching red brick chimneys of Wigan also somewhere deep in a valley below us. The modern world encroaches as to find the Iron Age Round Loaf Hill we orienteer using the glinting behemoth telephone masks rising on another ancient hill in front of us.

And then we are here, boots being hungrily slurped by the ooze hiding under the pretty but treacherous green.

And it is good.

There is a cairn at the top- it is a small hill, a tiny little thing, clearly man made but neat and self contained. I look eagerly for witchcraft-to have travelled all this way you must yearn for proper hardcore witchery, not just your neighbours’ cow running dry or in the modern age, your neighbours Renault Clio being hexed to need new windscreen wipers. There is a smashed polystyrene cup on the top, maybe used to transport blood but I suspect lukewarm tea from a thermos. The views are astonishing from somewhere, which is so near population and tameness but somehow beyond. And it stretches for miles and miles and miles.

I peer closely at a piece of wood which might have initials inscribed of someone who is soon to die a mysterious death. But it turns out not to be initials, just marks on wood. There is a rusty lumpiness of metal poking forth from the top but it does not want to come out easily and this hill has suffered enough from people trying to excavate it over the centuries, taking any treasures home and then if they ever existed then being used to prop up that dodgy cupboard in your house in 1897 and in 1901 being flung at the wall and demolished when a foot hit it the way to a chamber pot.

Round Loaf Hill is good and I am glad it has never been officially excavated and hope shitloads of mystery lie underneath.

I have however bought my copy of Lancashire Magic and Mystery with me, the day is yet young and there is a murdered grey clad priest at ancient Headless Cross just up the road in Addington who is just dying to meet us.   Oh. He is late. Or maybe the only sunny day in August is not conductive to meeting the undead when your subconscious is more tuned in to finding a reasonably priced Magnum Enigma.

But it is a waste of petrol to come all this way and not find a ghost so I consult Lancashire Magic and Mystery and hark! There is a pub nearby, the Black Horse Inn, which has been pulling pints for over a thousand years and is clearly literally bogged down in ectoplasm.


Also I fancy a pint. Ghosts are a good excuse.

Hmm. Ghosts would not appear anywhere that has this carpet. Or plays this music. Unless they died on the way to a Now That’s What I Call Music Through The Eighties concert. There is a quiz machine flashing angry neon in the corner where I envisaged gnarled floorboards, a trapdoor and a flitting hooded shadow. The smell of fish and chips pervades the once dank gloomy corners where now lie cardboard cutouts advertising a new form of Carling that might have a slight taste of lime. There are to be fair many real ales at the bar but the only cider is Strongbow, which might make me haunt the fucking place too. That’ll learn ‘em.

There are whimsical things painted on the wall and there is no way there is or has ever been a ghost here.


I have read eight pages of the Chorley Advertiser then decide to get another drink. I am at the bar from which my seat is clearly visible. I return and my paper is now sat with the front page facing me. I was reading something boring about Tiny Acorns nursery and suddenly a blast from the five minutes and eight pages past ago and I am now suddenly spookily reading again about Bradley Wiggins having his hair cut at a local barbers as the paper is neatly back at the front page instead of the sprawled flurry I left it in when I went to the bar. The bar visible from my seat and the flustered bar man who has been shooting around fielding questions about sticky toffee pudding and carting traditional pie and chips about has been nowhere near. It is a hot still day.

Lancashire Magic and Mystery talks about unexplained occurrences at the pub which I took to mean the price of their house white but I was expecting (as documented in the aforementioned book) ghostly cold caressing hands not such a dull mystery it is almost embarrassing and boring to even mention like talking about a particularly heavy period or a long and confusing dream.



I did not expect a paper to be neatly folded back to the front page. I can’t utterly swear I did not do it myself but as an avid reader of unfamiliar local newspapers it would not be something I would do when at page eight and stopping briefly to get a glass of wine. It was my second, not my thirtieth drink (sadly) and this will remain a tragically prosaic mystery.


Why ghost, did you not do something creepy at the ancient satanic mound? Why did you not fling something in the ancient pub that wanted to be Wetherspoons to make it certain? Now I have the bloody undead weirdly messed up in my head with Bradley Wiggan’s sideburns, something about a bloody nursery and citrus flavoured beer.  The uncertainty and urbanity of it all annoys me but there is still the intrigue.

Ghost. If you are reading this, I can offer you a lift in a battered Kia to a dark hump in the midst of a moor where a ghost would be very well suited to lurking. But it is a bit chilly out and you obviously prefer to sit back, chill out and cause ever so slight confusion very now and then. Your horizons are small, Ghost but to be fair maybe you just don’t like the cold.

Jun 30 2012

Cartmel is posh but I am not.

Cartmel is the poshest place in the world. Seriously.

And I used to live in Bath.

This scares me.

I do not know where 20 fags and some Tampax could possibly be purchased here. The residents here must live on over embellished cupcakes, unpasteurised ewes milk cheese cut from a block and a sense of their own self-satisfaction.

It is undeniably a staggering beautiful village, the sort of village you imagine in a trench when about to be shot to death because it is the Essence of England, like something Cath Kidson has spewed up in a dotty bunting bedecked dream in the Cotswolds.

Being sort of hidden somehow between Lancashire and Cumbria, on minor A roads, you are expecting a small village that excels in its rightly famous sticky toffee pudding and the Priory that you have read about somewhere and feel you should really go and look at and pretend to be interested in even though you are actually only interested in the haunted gatehouse that you read about in a rubbish local book about ghosts you were embarrassed to be seen ordering from the library.

Oh and L’Enclume, the famous Michelin starred restaurant which has unlikely foams and things and you secretly hope that there might be a two for a tenner lunch special even though you are actually aware that won’t ever ever happen.

There are waving meadows in front of hanging basket-bedecked cottages, the cottages all have names engraved on little slabs, and tasteful dust free antiquities are displayed on quaintly gnarled windowsills.

A woman is splashed (oh so slightly) by a car and when I smile and make a sympathetic joke, she keeps repeating the word ‘idiots’ and she is very angry indeed. It was only a small puddle but the car had young people in which I suspect may have been the problem.

The centre is bigger than expected; should one wish to have a nice cup of coffee, there is so much competition there is clearly controversy galore as one coffee shop also delighting in the excitement and daring of selling sodding cupcakes, (prostituted tarted up fairy cakes) has a sign that says ‘best coffee in town or your money back’. I like Community in Action.

I am nearly run over by a Bentley, which I am a bit pleased by. There is a fiver in my purse and some coins and I feel rich rich rich with my paper money knocking splendidly about but a sticky dense loaf of three cheese and marmite bread from the bakery and a Cartmel Apple and Toffee Crumble Bake has knocked me into overdraft.

The Priory is glorious but I feel guilty as do not have the politely requested three pound donation so post all my remaining cash through the slot where it gleams with accusing copperiness. The bread won’t fit through, anyway the marmite and three cheeses will surely jam up the hole so I run around quickly, trying not to get three pounds worth of viewing. If it crumbles into a ball tomorrow, it is my entire fault. But the bread was worth it.

A Farrow and Balled pub up a side street has the classic meal deal of soup and sandwich but for a tenner. The nearby L’ Enclume is indeed so classy and non ‘two for a tenner’ there is not a menu outside, nor indeed any sign it is in fact a place to eat. It could be a media hub in Shoreditch or an Anorexic clinic for supermodels in Richmond were it not for the fact that there is an ancient cat on a windowsill opposite sticking its tongue out at me and yet another pony has just gone past.

It is hard here, to imagine the reality of the recession, which is why it might be so bustling.

If you can afford the petrol to get here and a tenner to spend on cupcakes and coffee, you feel like a Barclay Brother. A woman cheerily bemoans to the staff in the bakery (a bakery so posh it sells virtually only bread) that she will simply never get the time to read her ‘papers’- (the Daily Telegraph was tucked under her arm) but she ‘buys them anyway’.

I look at my toddler leaning dangerously and angrily away from me, coated in Smartie Batter and consider leaving him here. Like a pub cat, he would be fed on lovely tit bits by tourists and well heeled locals, be patted and smiled upon and probably be extremely happy.

Then as I look upon a cheeseboard and wine platter, displayed vividly and erotically upon a chalkboard, I decide to simply sell him instead.